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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida and WUSF can help. Our responsibility at WUSF News is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

Problems At Hillsborough COVID-19 Vaccine Site A Symptom Of Second Dose Confusion

Two female health workers sit at a folding table preparing syringes with coronavirus vaccines at a Hillsborough County vaccination site.
Stephanie Colombini
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Seniors waited for hours in lines that stretched for miles at the University Mall vaccination site in Tampa this week. Many showed up without appointments, confused about the process for getting their second shot.

The state said it will contact individuals who visit its vaccination sites about scheduling a second appointment, but they may have to wait.

Those in need a second dose of the coronavirus vaccine in Florida should do their research first so they don't get turned away.

How you get your second shot depends on where you got your first, and that has created confusion.

Some counties and pharmacies arrange appointments on-site when first doses are given. Other providers will reach out schedule follow-up shots later. Targeted sites at churches and affordable housing complexes typically tell recipients to come back on a designated date.

Then there's state-run sites. The state says it will contact people who visit these to arrange their second appointment.

But in Hillsborough County this week, thousands of seniors showed up to the University Mall site in Tampa without appointments.

Some told reporters on Thursday that they never heard from anyone, and assumed that they were supposed to return on the date they were eligible for a second shot, the one listed on a card vaccine recipients receive the day they get their first dose.

That had been the county’s message when it was running vaccination sites, explained Kevin Watler, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County. But instructions changed when the state took over at University Mall.

The county had to turn away those without appointments.

The confusion led to hours-long waits and traffic backups. Watler said people also showed up at the wrong time for appointments and the site vaccinated more than 3,000 people – twice as many people as it had on other recent days.

“That ended up being the perfect storm, and it caused a big headache for everyone, it caused a lot of disruption to the area and it caused a safety issue as well,” said Watler, who acknowledged the public’s frustration.

Watler is urging people who go to state-run vaccination sites to visit myvaccine.fl.gov and indicate they are seeking their second dose.

This will ensure they are in the state’s system, and gives them a chance to list how they would like the state to contact them for scheduling.

Responding to a request for comment, Samantha Bequer, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management said, “Individuals who do not have an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will be asked to return only when they have an appointment. The state has never disbursed messaging that would suggest otherwise.”

Bequer said operators will make multiple attempts to contact individuals due for a second dose.

“If an individual has not been contacted for their second dose appointment and it is past the date listed on their CDC vaccination card, they can either call the designated help line for their county (located here) or visit myvaccine.fl.gov,” she said.

"The state is working to schedule second dose appointments as quickly as possible and we ask for individuals to remain patient during this time."

Kevin Watler said it’s important to note the date listed on the vaccination card isn’t the day someone has to get their second dose, rather the first day that they can get it. He said the state is getting people their second shot as much as six weeks after the first.

Pfizer recommends a 21-day gap for its vaccine; Moderna, 28 days.

Watler acknowledges that can be frustrating, as many people are desperate for protection from COVID-19.

“So some people get very, very nervous, ‘It’s 21 days, I haven’t been contacted,’ – that’s OK,” he said. “We’re making sure we’re going to get you scheduled to get your second dose in time, well within that six-week period.”